Extract from the Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson Coolidge

Wednesday, October 17. I rode and our party drove twenty-six miles along the Maryland line to General Banks’s headquarters. Gordon’s regiment, the Massachusetts Second, was encamped close by. Towards evening on to General Stone’s headquarters to visit the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment, at Edwards’ Ferry. Mr. Amory and myself slept in Major Paul Revere’s tent. They were all grumbling at an inaction which had lasted five weeks.

On Friday, when we left, everything was as peaceable as possible; but the next Sunday occurred the disastrous battle of Ball’s Bluff. The Twentieth crossed the river with Devens’s Fifteenth, a California regiment under Baker, and a New York regiment; in all, twenty-one hundred men. They met the enemy in superior numbers,—about four thousand,—well posted in the woods, and were shot down like sheep. Baker was killed and the broken ranks, when pursued back to the river, found no provision to ferry them over. Three or four hundred were killed or drowned; amongst them young Putnam. Five hundred and fifty were taken prisoners, including Colonels Lee and Cogswell and the two Reveres. Devens and Casper Crowninshield saved themselves by swimming the river. Captain Bartlett with great coolness led his company a mile or two up the stream and found a boat. The whole matter was a blunder of Baker’s, but General Stone was made the scapegoat.

We saw this general before leaving at Poolesville. He has twenty-seven thousand men in his division and commands the right wing of the Army of the Potomac. He spoke very highly of Devens’s regiment and we had the pleasure of shaking hands with the gallant colonel. We were shown the soldiers’ stores, which are as good as anything on my table, and given to the men in such abundance that they resell part of their rations. The Government, having found out that this food was taken across the river to the enemy, is now buying back from the men their surplus rations. The extravagance with which this war is conducted is inconceivable. A private gets excellent clothing and shoes costing certainly five dollars a month, rations worth twelve dollars a month, his pay of thirteen dollars a month, State allowance to his family twelve dollars, making forty-two dollars a month in all. The waste in hay, cattle, and ammunition is equally frightful; but the leaders are politicians and are afraid of offending the soldiers who have votes.

October 18. On our return to Washington we called on Chief Justice Taney, Secretary Chase, and General Scott. The latter is entirely gone, very old and infirm, unfit for his place but courteous as always.

Published in The Autobiography of T. Jefferson Coolidge, 1831–1920 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1923), 32–34.